Pork belly and beans (Nigel Slater)

dried cannellini beans 500g
bay leaves 3
belly pork, bones out 1.2kg
onions 2 medium
olive oil
thyme 6 little sprigs
vegetable stock 1 litre
cavolo nero or other dark cabbage 200g

Soak the beans in deep, cold water overnight. In the morning, drain them, tip into a very large saucepan, add three bay leaves, cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove and discard any froth that floats to the surface with a draining spoon, then partially cover with a lid and turn down to a lively simmer. Leave the beans to cook for a good 45-60 minutes until almost tender.

Peel and chop the onions, then soften them in a little oil in a large, solid roasting tin over a low to moderate heat, adding the whole thyme sprigs and a grinding of black pepper. Let them take their time, so the onions are truly soft.

Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 8. Drain the cooked beans as soon as they are almost tender, and tip them into the onions and thyme. You should include the bay leaves or, if they look tired, add a couple of new ones. Pour in the stock.

Using a heavy kitchen knife, slice the piece of pork belly into eight squares. Salt the skin generously, pushing the grains down into the slashes on the surface. Place the pieces snugly, but not quite touching each other, into the beans, making certain that the pork stands proud of the beans. Bake for 20 minutes until the crackling is looking pale gold and lightly crisp.

Lower the heat to 160C/gas mark 2 and continue cooking for an hour and 15 minutes. The pork should be crisp on top, soft but not meltingly so. Remove the pork to warm plates.

Place the roasting tin over a moderate heat, shred the cabbage and stir into the beans and cook for a couple of minutes. Finish with salt, stirring it into the beans. Serve with the pork.

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